Bedtime theology with the 10 yo…
10 yo: So, you know how the Bible starts with Adam and Eve? Where is that on the pie chart?
Me: The pie chart? Huh?
10 yo: There’s a pie chart hanging in the Sunday school room, it has, like, Advent, Christmas and Easter and stuff.
Me: Oh! That’s the seasons of the church year, which is called the liturgical calendar. Wow, that is a great question. Well, so, the Old Testament isn’t on there. We don’t have any specific Old Testament holidays or seasons in on our church calendar.
10 yo: So if it doesn’t start with Adam and Eve, where does it start?
Me: Our church calendar starts from the New Testament. It starts in Advent, then Christmas, Lent, Easter and Pentecost, then it starts over.
10 yo: Well, if the Old Testament was on there, would it be between Pentecost and Advent? Like, it would come before Advent, right?
Me: Wow, I never really thought of it that way.
Be still my nerdy, pastor-mom heart: my kid voluntarily asked me about the liturgical calendar and made a clever observation. Peak parenting moment!
My 10-year-old is particularly interested in maps, charts, calendars and all things orderly, so his questions fit him. But we all use the calendar in some way to order our lives, and we all experience seasons of the year where we live (some more dramatic than others). I lived in California in my twenties after growing up in the Upper Midwest. I thought there were no discernable seasons there. No browning fields of crops! Very few colored leaves! No snow! But after a time, I began to listen to the rhythm of nature in that place and discern the subtle, yet present differences in the seasons through plants, animals and weather. Sometimes we need to slow down experience the seasons.
Humans have long fashioned calendars to mark time; the early church was no different. In the first few centuries of the Christian church, leaders added festivals to a calendar and liturgies (prayers, readings, litanies) to go with them. This was called the liturgical calendar, or church calendar. Eventually, we ended up with something that looks like this, the "pie chart" to which my son referred.
Some churches don't use a church calendar -- an acquaintance said she'd been going to church her whole life and had never heard of Lent! -- but I love the seasonal flow that marks not just the passage of time but also explores experiences in Scripture and the echoes in my own life. Sometimes I feel like lamenting (Lent) and sometimes l feel joyful (Easter). Sometimes I reflect on my own growth (Pentecost) and sometimes I'm longing for the light of Christ to be revealed (Epiphany). It doesn't matter if I feel the "right" way to match the church season. In a liturgical calendar that keeps going 'round, I'll be able to experience it all.
This is a time of year where people are thinking about calendars and looking at the year to come. I've already started writing in my 2024 paper planner (yes, paper) and I'll finalize it in the coming week. At year end, many of us reflect on what we've done this year, and what we've left undone. We dream of what the new year will hold. Yet no whether we toast the new year or watch the ball drop or go to sleep early, we know that in 365 days (366 for 2024) we'll do it all again. There's comfort in the cycle.
As a teenager, I listened to Casey Kasem count down the year's 100 biggest hits on our home stereo on New Year's Eve; this year I'll be at home with the kids watching movies in our pajamas. We'll see if we make it to midnight. There's something special about watching that clock move from 11:59 to 12:00. You don't feel different, but things have changed. Maybe it's the power of calendars.
An octogenarian friend recently confessed that she's not much of a Christmas person (she was raised Christian). She said the holiday doesn't mean much to her anymore. But, she said, I love New Year's; it's my favorite holiday. Why? I asked. Because I made it one more year, she said. I'm still here.
According to the liturgical calendar, we're still in the season of Christmas. It's still that in-between time of celebrating the birth of Christ and the joy of the season, while part of us is thinking about taking down the tree and how many things we need to ship back to Amazon. I think I'll take a lesson from my octogenarian friend and reflect a little more on the coming of the new year, embedded as it is in the Christmas season. We are still here. The calendar will keep going around. The liturgical pie chart will keep spinning. The good news of Jesus weaves throughout the seasons on the church calendar and in the seasons of our lives.
Happy New Year.